Friday, September 25, 2009

West African Dance

I didn't realize that I'd actually wanted the job until I got the rejection letter. Or more accurately - the rejection email. I opened my inbox and saw a message titled "Employment at RI" from the H.R. director. I scanned it quickly, enough to see that it wasn't a job offer (I pretty much knew that already, they would have called with an offer), and closed it again.

M really wanted me to get this job. We have repairs to make on the house, and our car is unreliable - we borrow his mother's car for any trip over twenty miles. And then there's the news. I've been avoiding it, someone told me early on that its bad for your mental health to hear job loss statistics when you're unemployed, that it will just get you down, and I haven't watched much news - or much TV at all, since I lost my job. The otherwise useless job loss counselor who was brought in the day after layoffs had sealed it with: "People who lose their jobs tend to get depressed because they watch too much Judge Judy." The words conjured up an image of me sitting on the couch - no, laying on the couch, in my pajamas, an open tube of Pringles on the floor and the TV remote in my listless, extended hand, slack-jawed and glossy-eyed. That was the moment I decided not to watch daytime television for the duration of my unemployment, and I haven't - apart from a couple episodes of The Ellen Show, and the one time I watched Barney Miller on channel 23 for it's inherent kitsch value. And who doesn't love Ellen? With her dancing and her disarming, genuinely upbeat attitude, she is the antidote to a thousand horrible daytime programming decisions. She even gives money away to her unemployed audience members from time to time. I love Ellen, but I don't even watch her show because she's on at 3pm and the TV stays off until at least 6.

I sat in front of the computer for a moment before pulling myself up off the chair, the weight of the flesh hanging from my bones feeling suddenly much heavier than when I'd sat down moments earlier. I had somewhere to go; I changed into a pair of sweatpants and a tank top, took the glasses off my face and pressed clear plastic discs onto my eyeballs in their place, got onto my bike, and rode to the Old Town School of Folk Music for my dance class.

The first time I saw Idy Ciss' West African Dance Class was through the windows outside the school on Lincoln Avenue. I was on my way to another class, and as I walked up the street the riotous sounds of live djembe drumbeats escaped from the open windows of the dance studio. I stopped in front of the picture windows and watched as a roomful of students danced from one side of the floor to the other using big, expressive movements. The drumbeat was infectious, and the energy of the dancers captivated me. I enrolled for the next session as soon as I could get to the registration desk.

Something about the movements of the dance - big, uninhibited, fearless movements that take my whole body to create, makes me feel so fantastic. I was never what you'd call agile, I never did ballet as a kid and I don't have the flexibility or grace of a natural dancer. I can keep time with the beat, and I do my best with what I've got. The most intense dancing I'd done as a youth was square dancing at summer camp, which while fun in its own way, is calculated and careful in comparison, and has none of the unbridled energy of West African Dance.

Idy can make any step look lithe and effortless. I sweat so much during my first class that I had to take my glasses off and dance blind. I took several sessions of Idy's class, even moving to level II, until I got a job that took away the extra energy I needed for this kind of activity.

I got to the dance studio early. There was only one other student when I arrived, and we sat in silent communion on the glossy wooden floor, stretching our bodies and waiting.

Idy started us slow, but soon I was drenched in sweat. The force of drumbeats willed me to move past my depression and into another space entirely, forcing a catharsis. Idy clapped out the beats with his hands so loudly it sounded like wooden sticks making contact. People sitting at the Bad Dog Tavern across the street looked up from their drinks, passers-by on the street stopped and looked in the windows as I had once done, and small children pressed their noses to the glass door leading to the hallway. Everyone on the block knows when there's a West African Dance class in session.

After the class was dismissed I rinsed my hot face in the water fountain in the hall, stepped outside into the early evening breeze, got on my bike and rode home.


KimLookAlike said...

:-( I am sad we won't be able to have our (imaginary)planned morning rides together on the CTA...

I gotta sign up for that dance class when I get back...

j.cro said...

I'm sorry you didn't get the job. Something is bound to come your way.

Like Dory says, "Just keep swimming."

As an aside - my word verification is a funny one today - waxonita. I wonder where someone would put the accent emphasis?

JP said...

Thanks ladies.

Waxonita? Wow. I typed it into Google to see if it even means anything, it seems to be a Spanish word but I have no idea what it could mean.

Friend Mouse said...

You're absolutely right about the unmatched physical joy that W. African dance brings. I took a full year of it my last year in college and it was my favorite class ever. How lucky you are to have classes like that available to you!